17. The Star: The Calm After A Storm

The Fool has just experienced a huge upheaval when they encountered The Tower. They are feeling totally lost, not sure where to go from here. That’s when they meet The Star, one of my favourite cards in the whole deck.

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Middle: Rider-Waite-Smith, Top left: Sasuraibito, Top right: Star Spinner, Bottom left: This Might Hurt, Bottom right: Modern Witch

The Star gives you this feeling of healing; it feels like coming indoors from the cold, someone gives you a cup of tea and you relax on the sofa with the fire on.

The figure in the card looks so confident in her own skin, she looks at peace and relaxed. Nakedness is vulnerable, but allowing that vulnerability gives you strength. Similarly to Temperance, The Star is pouring water and is part on land and part in the water. She is in tune with all parts of herself. The grounded and realistic parts, the flowy, emotional parts, all in harmony.

As you see the water flow on the land, you begin to understand how everything on earth is connected. The Star knows this, and relishes in it. The water nourishes the plants in the earth, or is heated by fire and rises into the air. All four elements united.

Above the woman in the image is one big guiding star, surrounded by seven smaller stars. These seven are said to represent the chakras. The stars have eight points, so they represent The Star of Ishtar. Ishtar, or Inanna, is an ancient Mesopotamian Goddess. She is associated with many things, such as love, beauty, war, and justice. She is often associated with Venus. Inanna-Ishtar is important to many feminists because of how powerful she is compared with the male Gods of her pantheon.

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Goddess Ishtar on an Akkadian Empire seal, 2350-2150 BC

What is your guiding star? Stripped back to your most important values, what truly matters to you most? If you pull this card, find your home inside yourself. No matter what you have been through, you can heal and you have the potential to do many wonderful things. Journal or meditate on what is important to you, and what makes you feel like you are home. How can you find healing?

As we go through the remaining few cards of the Major Arcana, we will begin to consider, what is our calling? The Star is asking us to begin thinking about these big questions so that we can find inner peace.

The Star is associated with my Zodiac sign, Aquarius. If you would like to know which tarot card is associated with your sign, have a look at the list below. Do you think that card represents you well? See if you can remember what some of these cards mean, as we have covered all but one of them by now.

Aries – The Emperor

Taurus– The Hierophant

Gemini– The Lovers

Cancer– The Chariot

Leo– Strength

Virgo– The Hermit

Libra– Justice

Scorpio– Death

Sagittarius– Temperance

Capricorn– The Devil

Aquarius– The Star

Pisces– The Moon

Sometimes when we begin to heal, when we begin to ask ourselves the big questions, we can encounter confusion and uncertainty. That’s what we will be exploring next time, with card number 18: The Moon.

 

 

16. The Tower: Fall down seven times get up eight

The Tower is the most hated (misunderstood) card in the Tarot. When I look at tarot subs on Reddit, I see a trend where people say something along the lines of ‘I pulled The Tower and now I’m worried something bad is going to happen to me.’

As you know if you have been here on this blog before, I don’t think the cards can tell you if something bad is going to happen to you. But even if they could, I don’t even think that’s the message that The Tower has for us. I don’t think any of the cards have a purely pessimistic meaning.

When have you felt something change so dramatically that you know things can never be the same again? Losing a loved one, breaking up with someone, being rejected, events like these are Tower moments. You might feel like the ground is crumbling all around you. It’s shocking, like a bolt of lightning.

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Middle: Rider-Waite-Smith, Top left: Sasuraibito, Top right: Star Spinner, Bottom left: This Might Hurt, Bottom right: Modern Witch.

Tower moments happen to us all, and they’re unavoidable. In the imagery above we see a tower struck by lightning, and people falling to the rocks below. It can be hard to see anything positive in this image, and we shouldn’t force ourselves not to feel pain when we see it. That’s actually what this card is teaching us. Feel the pain and get through it anyway.

Sometimes you have a situation that we have neglected or repressed for so long that it starts to ferment and brew. If we keep avoiding these situations eventually they become so full of pressure that they explode and we are forced to make huge changes. Think revolutions, both literal, and the metaphorical ones in our personal lives. Leaving an abusive partner, quitting your job, leaving a neglectful home. Sometimes it is about ego- changing your mind about something you believed for a long time. Suddenly realising you weren’t right about something.

The catalyst for such change can be small, and it’s totally unexpected. You just can’t take it anymore, or can’t keep making excuses. That’s why this card can be so difficult. It’s not gentle. After it happens, you don’t know what to do, or if you can carry on at all.

But when things start to settle down again, you will be able to get up and try again. Dust yourself off and take a deep breath. And this time, whatever was holding you back before is gone. You’re resilient, you survived this huge event. Then you get to enjoy The Star, my favourite card in the Major Arcana. But you only get new beginnings when you have left something behind.

I know I said The Tower isn’t a bad card, but I have to mention how much I love the jokes people keep making that 2020 is a year of ‘all towers’:

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What tower events have you experienced in your life? How did you learn to heal from them? Meditate or journal on these thoughts, because The Tower is trying to help us to become better prepared for the next time we face upheaval. As always, please be kind and gentle to yourself.

We’re in the home stretch of the Major Arcana now and I’m looking forward to telling you all about The Star.

七転び八起き

Fall down seven times, get up eight

 

15. The Devil: Shadow Work

When The Fool meets The Devil, they learn what can happen if the teachings of Temperance are not heeded. This is an important lesson, one that many people learn the hard way.

The Devil is all about self-destructive behaviours, ways that you are holding yourself back. These things can be negative thought patterns, addictions, or habits you want to change. Basically everything that is really hard to change. It’s important to be kind to yourself while going through this process. Self-blame can bring you back into a cycle of pain and anxiety.

Please excuse the pun, but don’t demonise The Devil. This card helps us to see those things that hold us down so that we can begin to heal.

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Middle: Rider-Waite-Smith, Top left: Sasuraibito, Top right: Star Spinner, Bottom left: This Might Hurt, Bottom right: Modern Witch

The Devil is usually represented by Baphomet, who is adapted from the Greek God Pan. You may know this figure from when The Satanic Temple attempted to erect a Baphomet statue outside the Oklahoma State Capitol. Baphomet is a mix of human and animal, male and female. Their power is an illusion in the Rider-Waite-Smith depiction- look how loose those chains are- the people could escape. Change is in your hands.

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Compare The Devil to The Lovers. It’s almost like The Devil is mocking the other card. Baphomet is pretending to be the angel, but is also taking on a Magician pose. We are reminded of the choice that The Lovers taught us about. Are there any choices you have been making that are holding you back in some way?

I really like this point Little Red Tarot makes about The Devil:

In that same vein, there’s a more mundane message here about materialism. Addiction to ‘things’ is a sad issue of our time – it leads to huge amounts of waste, a throwaway culture, and a sense of not having enough (which ultimately means: not being enough). Think of the way beauty products are marketed, for example: by creating insecurity. We buy to fill the need, to fix ourselves. Our inner demons tell us that we need ‘things’ to make ourselves more beautiful, successful, popular, good. The Devil can represent becoming bogged down in this stuff, forgetting about the bigger picture and what is truly important in life.

I’d like to introduce a way that you can begin to shine a light on those parts of yourself that you may try to hide, that you feel shame about, that need some love. It’s called Shadow Work, and it’s a concept that was introduced by Carl Jung.

I think Tarot is a great way to do Shadow Work, because it can bring to the surface thoughts and feelings that aren’t in your conscious mind. Jung said that everyone has a shadow, and the less that you are aware of it, the darker it is. It’s that painful part of yourself that you try to pretend isn’t there.

I’m not a psychologist, so I won’t go into too much detail here- you can research shadow work and find plenty of resources. But here are some questions you could journal or ask your Tarot deck if you’re interested in trying it:

  • What am I hiding from myself?
  • What holds me down?
  • How do my thoughts/behaviours hold me back?
  • What is the root cause of my pain/anxiety/addiction?
  • What is blocking me from resolving this issue?
  • What do I need to forgive myself for?
  • What can I learn from my shadow self?
  • How do I move forward?

Make sure to be in a safe, comfortable place, and be in a relaxed state of mind when you approach questions like the above. See if you can designate a safe person you can go to if you become overwhelmed, and afterwards make yourself a cup of tea or run a bath. It’s hard work and deserves a relaxing reward.

Be kind to yourself.

14. Temperance: Queerness in Tarot

Along with The Hierophant, Temperance is one of my birth cards. It embodies what I think is one of the most important aspects of Tarot:

Balance.

The great thing about balance is it’s a non-judgmental concept. There are many people who will tell you things like ‘stop eating carbs’ or ‘go for a run every morning’. Whether or not you think those things are healthy, it’s not always practical to completely stop or start doing something. Habits take time and willpower to form. Embracing balance means to do what feels right to you, just keep it in moderation. Not much in life is black and white, and Temperance teaches us to appreciate the grey areas in life.

This isn’t about being a centrist, or never taking sides, it’s about recognising nuance, and the myth of duality. What do we often see as dual, or binary?

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Middle: Rider-Waite-Smith, Top left: Sasuraibito, Top right: Star Spinner, Bottom left: This Might Hurt, Bottom right: Modern Witch

An idea I love about Temperance is that it can represent the inherent non-binary nature of gender. Rather than there being two genders, male and female, it makes more sense to see gender as a spectrum:

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If you look at the symbol on the character in the Temperance card, you see a triangle inside a square. A triangle has three sides, and a square four. The third and fourth cards of the Tarot are the Empress and the Emperor, so it is like this character blends or balances those energies together. That is also what they are doing with those cups, and also by having one foot on land, and one in the water. Bringing together opposites, balancing and mixing what we usually see as separate.

There are other ways that you can bring this balance into your life. As the Little Red Tarot post says, think about things like work/life balance, or not making extreme decisions.

I am reminded of something that Weston says a few times in his podcast Root Lock Radio: you contain multitudes. I’m not sure who came up with that phrase first, but it possibly comes from this poem by Walt Whitman:

Song of Myself, 51
Walt Whitman – 1819-1892

The past and present wilt—I have fill’d them, emptied them.
And proceed to fill my next fold of the future.

Listener up there! what have you to confide to me?
Look in my face while I snuff the sidle of evening,
(Talk honestly, no one else hears you, and I stay only a minute longer.)

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

I concentrate toward them that are nigh, I wait on the door-slab.

Who has done his day’s work? who will soonest be through with his supper?
Who wishes to walk with me?

Will you speak before I am gone? will you prove already too late?

When you pull the Temperance card, think about what aspects of your life need balance. A lot of people struggle with black-and-white thinking. This is also sometimes called ‘splitting’. It’s the inability or difficulty to see the middle ground. Look for words like ‘never’ or ‘always’ in your thinking patterns: ‘I always screw things up’, ‘I’ll never find any friends’.

Noticing these patterns is the first mindful step towards reframing your thoughts in a more nuanced way. What ideas do you have for changing such thoughts?

Earlier I mentioned habits, and that’s something we will revisit next time when we discuss card 15: The Devil. Like Death, this is not a scary card, but it does show us what can happen if we do not practice Temperance.

13. Death: It’s Not Morbid

Transitions. Not just of life to death, but child to adult, day to night, winter to spring to summer to autumn to winter again. Birthdays, the phases of the moon. Becoming a parent, student to employee to retired. Some of these transitions are easier than others. But we all go through many.

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Following and honouring the cycles of the natural world can be very grounding, and if you ever experience dissociation, I recommend it.

Being afraid of death is very common, but so too is being afraid of change. And that’s what the Death card is all about.

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Middle: Rider-Waite-Smith, Top left: Sasuraibito, Top right: Star Spinner, Bottom left: This Might Hurt, Bottom right: Modern Witch

I love the symbolism of this card. Look at the different ways these characters react to Death. The bishop is praying, or maybe pleading for his life. The woman is turned away, she can’t even bear to think about death. The little girl doesn’t understand and offers Death a flower. There’s a king lying dead. All the power and the wealth in the world couldn’t protect him from death. Death himself has a flag with a white flower on it. They typically represent purification. In a way, death can be seen as purifying, as you go from rotting flesh to clean white bone.

 

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Did seeing that make you feel uncomfortable? I guess it depends what culture you are used to. The Toraja people of Indonesia live with their dead family members. Rather than a sudden transition from living to dead, by living with their loved ones’ corpses, they are able to slowly come to terms with their loss.

Like I said, this card represents transition, cycles, and change. How do you react to change in your life? Are you avoidant, or do you jump right in? many changes are unavoidable, and accepting that fact is freeing.

The Fool spent time contemplating their life as the Hanged Man, and now it is time to make necessary changes. What is no longer serving you? Think about things like your career or your relationships. Let go of unhealthy attachments, because if you cling on, you will only experience much more upheaval and pain later on. We will see how that manifests as The Tower in another post.

This card does not represent a literal death, as The Fool still has a long way to go on their journey yet. But it is such a useful metaphor, and can be a healing one to meditate on. If you pull this card, take time to journal or meditate on the transitions in your own life and the ones you experience around you. What do they mean to you and what can you learn from them?

If you are interested in this topic, I recommend the Order of the Good Death, which you can find out about here.

I am reminded of my favourite mantra which comes at the end of the Heart Sutra:

gate gate pāragate pārasaṃgate bodhi svāhā

It means ‘gone gone, completely gone, to the other shore, enlightenment svāhā‘ and the Sanskrit is pronounced ‘gatay gatay para gatay parasam gatay bohdy sva-ha’. Svāhā can’t really be translated but it’s kind of like saying ‘amen’.

You can listen to a performance of the Heart Sutra by Imee Ooi here; please be patient as the lyrics begin about a minute in, and the mantra is the last line!

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12. The Hanged Man: Limbo vs Liminality

Something that I’ve thought a lot this year (2020) is that it feels a lot like we’re in limbo.

Limbo is a word I’m sure you’ve used before, but have you thought about where it comes from? It’s from Catholic theology and refers to having died but not entering Heaven or Hell. The reason for this can be that you committed sins and need the redemption of Jesus to enter Heaven. Alternatively, it refers to infants who died before being baptised and therefore have not been freed of original sin.

I think a better word is liminal, which comes from Latin and means threshold. Liminality is a concept which refers to being in a transitional space. Twilight is liminal, as it is neither light nor dark. Flying in a plane is a liminal experience, as you are usually crossing time zones and borders. What time is it on a plane going from London to New York?

The reason I prefer the word liminal is that limbo has this implication that you’re trapped, maybe forever. Liminality is more about going through an uncertain period and being able to come out the other side. I really hope we do recover from the pandemic soon.

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Middle: Rider-Waite-Smith, Top left: Sasuraibito, Top right: Star Spinner, Bottom left: This Might Hurt, Bottom right: Modern Witch

This card depicts a person hanging from a tree, but not by their neck. They have one foot tied up, and they look surprisingly comfortable. The Hanged Man has a halo around their head which makes them seem enlightened in some way.

The Hanged Man tells us that there is nothing we can do just now. Be patient and wait for what comes next. It asks us not to be hasty, which can be really difficult. Many of us want results fast, we want to be moving forward and making progress. Sometimes it’s not the time for that.

Have you ever been going through a hard time, maybe trying to deal with an illness, and felt like time is slipping away, like everyone else is moving ahead and you’re stuck in the past? The Hanged Man reminds us that if we don’t give ourselves that time and space to recover, we can’t move on. It’s okay to allow yourself to stop.

Another interesting interpretation is that The Hanged Man has a different perspective from being upside down. Maybe you’re a little stuck in your ways and need to look at things differently.

There’s a place in Japan called Amanohashidate, which roughly means ‘bridge to heaven’. if you bend down and look at the view between your legs, the ‘bridge’ looks like a dragon soaring into the sky. By changing your perspective, you get a whole new view.

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Some have suggested that this card represents Odin. According to legend, Odin hanged himself from the world tree, Yggdrasil in order to obtain knowledge. He had to surrender and sacrifice himself in order to get what he wanted. Here’s a poem attributed to Odin about his experience:

I know that I hung on a wind-rocked tree,
nine whole nights,
with a spear wounded, and to Odin offered,
myself to myself;
on that tree, of which no one knows
from what root it springs.
Bread no one gave me, nor a horn of drink,
downward I peered,
to runes applied myself, wailing learnt them,
then fell down thence.

When we have to make decisions, often to choose one option means to sacrifice the other. Have you ever had to sacrifice something to make the right choice for you?

Next time you pull The Hanged Man, consider, is it a time to wait and contemplate rather than take immediate action? Do you need to look at your situation from another perspective? And maybe you have to consider what you’ll have to sacrifice. It can be a good idea to journal these thoughts, and use that time as your liminal space to figure out what is best for you.

11. Justice: Holding Yourself Accountable

In my last post, which was about the Wheel of Fortune, we started thinking about the idea of cause and effect, and that what you put out into the world matters. We begin to see the result of this concept play out with Justice. We’re finally halfway through the Major Arcana, and The Fool is really starting to come across challenging obstacles. What do you think they will encounter in the second half of the journey?

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Middle: Rider-Waite-Smith, Top left: Sasuraibito, Top right: Star Spinner, Bottom left: This Might Hurt, Bottom left: Modern Witch

Justice is personified as this badass woman holding a sword and a set of scales. We have all seen the scales used as a symbol for justice in places like courthouses. It represents the importance of making a balanced decision. Tarot comes back to this idea of balance again and again.

Often when we see the figure of Justice, she is blindfolded, but in the Tarot imagery she stares at us unyieldingly. As much as we might hope that justice is blind, in reality, it is sadly not. When humans enact justice, they are imperfect, have bias, and sometimes want retribution rather than rehabilitation.

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Justitia, Maarten van Heemskerk, 1556

The sword is representative of the element of air, which rules intelligence and rationality. These are essential qualities for true justice, and it is often thought you should use no emotion when it comes to justice. What do you think? The sword also hints at the idea that sometimes justice can be violent. Whether that is moral or right, when you think about how ‘justice’ has been enacted across the world, the sword is often used. What is called justice, often is not just.

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Thinking about your own life, where have you seen justice, and where has it been missing? Think about the difference between the concept of justice, which is fair and balanced, and the ways that humans use the word ‘justice’, which is sometimes anything but.

What can you do to fight injustice?

It is important to be accountable for your actions and decisions. If you wrong someone, own up to it and do the work to improve yourself. Sometimes when we make a mistake, we try to hide away and pretend it did not happen. This is because of pride, and pride abused leads to shame. What can you improve in your life to live responsibly and ethically?

I don’t want to sound like I’m giving you a lecture, because I have a very long way to go with these ideas just like anyone else. Admitting, rather than denying that, is the first step.

If you have been wronged and are waiting for justice, I truly hope it comes to you. If you pull this card, look for ways to fight for what is right, and look for ways to have integrity and responsibility.

I hope that when I inevitably mess up, I am held accountable and able to acknowledge my errors. What do you think?

10. Wheel of Fortune: Letting Go

After having had time to introspect as The Hermit, it is time now for the Fool to face another potentially difficult challenge. The Wheel of Fortune. For me, this card is all about learning to let go.

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Middle: Rider-Waite-Smith, Top left: Sasuraibito, Top right: Star Spinner, Bottom left: This Might Hurt, Bottom right: Modern Witch

There is a lot of esoteric symbolism in this card. Before we talk about what the card itself means I think it helps to know what the symbolism means. From the centre of the wheel are the alchemical symbols for sulphur, salt, mercury and water. These represent the classical four elements, the sulphur representing fire, the salt earth, and the mercury air.

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In the outer ring of the wheel, we see the letters T A R O. Considering that a wheel represents going around and around we can see that this is probably the word TAROT repeatedly infinitely. The Hebrew letters spell YHWH, the unpronounceable name of God. It might help to know that the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot is extremely influenced by the Qabalah, which is why we often see Hebrew letters, angels, and other esoteric imagery in the cards.

On top of the wheel is a sphinx, along the side is an amphisbaena, which is a two headed snake, and on the bottom, Anubis. Sphinxes (or sphinges) can represent power, knowledge, and protection. The amphisbaena is Greek for ‘goes both ways’. Anubis is the God of the underworld.

In the corners of the card are an angel, an eagle, a bull, and a lion. These are the zodiac signs Aquarius, Scorpio, Taurus, and Leo. Again, these represent the four classical elements, as they are the fixed air, water, earth and fire signs.

If you imagine that being on top of the wheel means things are going well for you, and being on the bottom means that things are bad, you can start to see what all these characters are telling us. You might be all high and mighty at the top, but as soon as the Goddess Fortuna spins the wheel again, whoever was on bottom gets a chance in the limelight, and whoever was on top is squashed into the ground. As the four elements are balanced, so too is the fate of the characters on and around the wheel.

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Fortuna

You cannot control the world around you. All you can control is the way you deal with what happens. It is important to remember that when times are bad, that is only temporary, and when times are good, cherish it, because it also doesn’t last forever.

I really like this quote from Bob Ross:

Gotta have opposites, light and dark, and dark and light in painting. It’s like in life. Gotta have a little sadness once in awhile so you know when the good times come. I’m waiting on the good times now.

If you had never experienced anything bad, how could you enjoy good things? You would have nothing to compare it to.

If you try to control how the wheel turns, you will only be disappointed. It’s time for The Fool to realise that there are things in this world that they cannot control. And if they still try to control them, they will be hurt. Are there things in your life that you try to control to give yourself a sense of security? Have you realised that when those things inevitably change, you feel cast out like you’re lost at sea?

Some people theorise that this card represents karma. The idea that what you give out to the world comes back, like cause and effect. Be kind to others when you’re on top, and maybe they can help you when you are struggling.

You can control how you react and respond to difficult situations. That is what gives you real strength in life. You can’t control other people. You can’t control how they see you. You can’t make them understand things the way you want them to.

If you pull The Wheel of Fortune, consider if there are changes you are being too resistant to. This is really hard. But you have to let go. When things are tough, trust that things will improve. A turning point is coming.

If you are true to yourself and your convictions, eventually others will see that without you forcing them to. I think we begin to see that in our next card, the halfway point. Next time, we’ll explore 11: Justice.

9. The Hermit: Not today, Facebook

At the time of writing, at least 63 people have died, and nearly 3000 have been wounded in the Lebanese city of Beirut as a result of an enormous explosion earlier today. If you are able to, please donate to the Lebanese Red Cross here.

There are a few cards I would associate with the current year 2020 so far. Definitely The Hanged Man, Strength, Justice, probably The Tower. And of course a lot of this year has felt like The Hermit.

Many of us have spent much of the year shut inside, and those who live alone will feel even more like a hermit. You might have heard people say you have to make the most of it: learn a new skill, get fit, start a new business. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been playing a lot of Animal Crossing.

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Hermit Crab

There are of course, good ways and bad ways to spend time alone. The Hermit card represents taking time away from the world to introspect, to look inwards, and to avoid distractions. Becoming The Hermit means that The Fool is beginning to realise that all they need is their own self. Making lots of money and becoming successful are fine things, but beyond being able to live comfortably, The Hermit asks you to look inside yourself and ask if you are living authentically.

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Middle: Rider-Waite-Smith, Upper left: Sasuraibito, Upper right: Star Spinner, Lower left: This Might Hurt, Lower right: Modern Witch

I really love the Modern Witch depiction of The Hermit, because all I hear in my head when I see it is ‘not today Facebook!’ and I really relate to that. I used to get so angry when I used Facebook, because I would see people peddling MLMs, or telling cancer patients to use turmeric instead of chemo, and I would end up wasting hours in pointless arguments. Facebook isn’t a good place to debate. You see the most extreme opinions from people who are highly unlikely to change their viewpoints. The Facebook algorithm is designed to make you angry and sad. I haven’t been on the platform for a year now, and I’m a happier person for it.

Let’s look at a way that The Hermit’s energy can be corrupted.

Hikikomori is described by Alan Robert Teo MD and Albert C. Gaw MD as ‘a form of severe social withdrawal’. It’s culturally specific to Japan, and mainly adolescents and young men can be described as hikikomori. Generally, hikikomori spend most or all of their time at home, do not attend school or work, and often rely on their parents to supply them with food and shelter, well into adulthood.

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Hikikomori

I’m sure there are people who could be defined as hikikomori outside of Japan. Sometimes things can be so stressful and overstimulating in the outside world, especially when you have a mental or neurological difference, that staying inside is predictable and peaceful. If you are having a panic attack or a meltdown, taking time to be alone in a quiet room can be incredibly healing.

This is where I believe the Tarot teaches us to have balance in our lives. There are times when being by yourself and looking within, rather than without is healthy and helps you to develop great coping skills. But beware of taking anything to an extreme, with this card, and every other in the deck.

Where can you use The Hermit to improve your life, and when is it less useful? Take time to think about this when you pull The Hermit, and may you have a peaceful day.

8. Strength: Compassionate Action

Answers to yesterday’s riddles:

I walk on four feet in the morning, two feet in the afternoon, and three feet in the evening, what am I?

A human- crawls as a baby (morning), walks independently as an adult (afternoon), and walks with a stick in old age (evening).

I have a mouth but do not speak, I have a bed but do not sleep, I run everywhere but go nowhere, what am I?

A river- mouth of a river, riverbed, a river runs but can’t relocate.

In some Tarot decks, the 8th card is Justice, and Strength is 11, but all of the decks I work with have Strength as 8, so that’s what I’ll be talking about today.

When you hear the word ‘strength’, you might think of raw power or physical strength, and that might well resonate with a lot of people. But there’s an interpretation I think might be applicable to a wider range of people regardless of physical ability.

Have you ever seen the TV show What Would You Do? It’s a series where actors sit in public areas like restaurants and shops and pretend to have a disagreement that involves an injustice. An example is this episode which involves a cis woman telling a trans woman that she can’t use the women’s bathroom. The people around are not actors, and you can see their reactions to overhearing this conversation. Most of them begin by looking very uncomfortable, sometimes looking to whoever is with them like they’re thinking ‘are you seeing this?!’ and then in nearly every case, they step in and stand up for the trans woman.

Those situations are really scary, and I’m sure many of us have seen something similar and wanted to step in but felt too intimidated. But sometimes you can’t take it anymore, because the anger and the sense of injustice is stronger than the fear. For me, that’s a major part of the Strength card. When you’re so sure of your convictions that your fear of getting involved in a potential fight isn’t as powerful as that inner strength.

This kind of strength is compassionate and loving. It requires being sure of yourself. That’s really not easy. I think the beautiful symbolism of the Strength card helps us to find that within ourselves. Let’s take a look:

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Middle: Rider-Waite-Smith, Upper left: Sasuraibito, Upper right: Star Spinner, Lower left: This Might Hurt, Lower Right: Modern Witch

The image is of a woman taming a lion. But she isn’t doing so brutally or forcefully. You can tell that she loves the lion. She’s firm, yet gentle. The lion represents parts of us that are often in our unconscious mind. In her book Seventy-eight Degrees of Wisdom, Rachel Pollack describes Strength as ‘the whole force of personality, usually smoothed over by the demands of civilised life.’ Sometimes we have been taught by society to not speak up, or not express certain things. But rather than force those things away, the woman in the Strength card tames those aspects so that she can express them in a way that is useful.

It’s normal and understandable to be angry about something and want to lash out sometimes, but Strength helps us to channel this into something more productive like through activism or Nonviolent Communication, depending on the issue. Accept and love those fiery parts of yourself. Don’t ever force that lion back if you are passionate about something, but rather than letting those feeling explode, use them as fuel. If we let those feelings injure us, we can sometimes feel like the people who have wronged us have won.

It takes courage to release emotion. Sometimes people will call you names. For example, when black women express their feelings, they are often labelled as an ‘Angry Black Woman’, and this is used to dismiss them. Most women are socialised to tip-toe around others, and that’s not okay. Strength is that wild part of all of us that should not be pushed away.

There’s another part of Strength that I love. It’s the idea that you don’t need others’ approval to enjoy something. I like this quote by C.S. Lewis:

Critics who treat ‘adult’ as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence. And in childhood and adolescence they are, in moderation, healthy symptoms. Young things ought to want to grow. But to carry on into middle life or even into early manhood this concern about being adult is a mark of really arrested development. When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.

You might have experienced shame for enjoying something that your demographic typically doesn’t engage in. Maybe you’re an adult who enjoys cartoons, or a man who enjoys knitting, or a teenage girl who likes fishing. Anyone who makes you feel bad about those things is truly immature themselves.

Knowing who you are, and what you like is a powerful thing, and that’s what the Strength card asks you to manifest in your life. It helps you to speak up, to endure when things are difficult, and to be proud and confident in who you are. I hope you can use Strength to live your best life.

Today I mentioned Seventy-eight Degrees of Wisdom by Rachel Pollack. If you’re serious about learning Tarot, I really recommend this book. She dives deep into the symbolism of the cards, and I learned a lot from her interpretations.